Archive for the 'Teacher Education' Category

Moving Forward

Reflection_in_a_soap_bubble_editBy Elias Vareldzis

As the semester winds down, I feel grateful that we’ve been given an opportunity to put our own teaching practices and development in the profession into perspective. With the end of the semester fast approaching, it feels good to take a minute to look back at my growth as a teacher over the course of the semester and to reflect on how I need to improve my practice going forward into my student teaching experience.

Over the course of the semester, I’ve learned a lot through gaining teaching experience in the field about what my own teaching practices and tendencies are. The process has provided me with opportunities to develop new skills, receive invaluable feedback from my peers, professor, and supervisor, and critique my own strengths and weaknesses in order to continue to better myself as an educator.

I feel that among my strengths as a teacher, foremost is my ability to develop an inclusive class culture and a positive learning environment based on a tangible respect between all of the members of the class and myself. I feel very good about my ability to create a good classroom environment that welcomes and encourages all students to participate and share. While I still have many ways I can continue to develop in this manner, I think it stands out as one of my early strengths as a teacher. I feel confident in my ability to truly connect and build relationships with my students as people, even given the limited time that I spend in the classroom on a weekly basis. My supervisor has told me that there is a clearly defined presence that I bring to the learning environment that has stood out as a positive aspect of my practice during each of our observations.

I feel confident in my ability to critique dominant narratives, as it is an incredibly important part of teaching history with social justice and the uncovering of the entire historical narrative in mind to provide a more accurate portrayal of historical events. I haven’t been able to exhibit my ability to address non-dominant narratives in our civics class aside from bringing to student attention ways in which the political system has and can exclude people of low socioeconomic status. I look forward to incorporating more dominant narrative critique in the sections of US history I will be teaching next semester.

I also think that I have done well to plan my lessons in a detailed manner in order to best meet student needs by providing varied forms of communication. I’ve implemented varied ways of presenting and engaging in content for my students ranging from think-pair-share activities, to drawing diagrams on the board, to providing students with the opportunity to participate in group work, whole group discussion, written argument development, and a simulation of a caucus. I do think that I need to work on making specific changes/modifications to lesson content to help better engage students of varied abilities engage in class material at a grade level that is the most appropriately challenging for them. This is something that I think I will become more practiced in doing once I am much more familiar with my own students that I will be able to get to know on a much more personal level than I am able to coming in just twice a week for a few hours.

In reflecting on these strengths, it is apparent that they are primarily the more basic skills associated with successfully teaching the social studies. I understand that Roman wasn’t built in a day, and that these are the basic building blocks that need to be developed to build a strong foundational teaching practice, but it still makes me have a “reality check” moment that makes me realize how much I have still to develop as a teacher before I feel genuinely confident in my ability to provide a truly quality educational experience.

In my time in the classroom this semester, I felt like I had a solid grasp on creating essential questions and concepts for ensuring enduring understanding, but once actually implemented during teaching, my questions seemed to often fall flat in terms of actually engaging the class and making them curious, questioning the prompt. We developed a very good essential question during our in-class mini teaching lesson, which felt good. But overall, I think I have a solid understanding of how they work and what their value is, but I just need to work on translating the knowledge I have on how to implement them into real life situations in different classes and subjects in the real world, a process that will take time and practice, but that I feel confident I can further successfully develop.

I feel that I have done a decent job of connecting content to students’ cultural and community assets, but I definitely have a lot of work to do in terms of developing a knowledge base deep enough (in terms of cultural and community relevance in a civics classroom) to be able to provide very good connections between the things we are learning about the government system and local politics and examples from our own community. At the end of the day, I think I could do more in my planning process to come up with specific examples regardless of lesson topic/content that relate the class material to the lives of the students. This is probably my biggest area of improvement to me at the moment. If I can’t connect class concepts effectively to student’s lives so that they can see how content is relevant to them, I’m going to have a problem. So this is one of my main areas of concern in terms of what I need to immediately work on improving.

In my teaching in during my observed lessons, I also didn’t incorporate as much authentic social scientific thinking and historical thinking into my lessons as I should have. I again think that this will change as I begin teaching groups of students every day. As I had mentioned above, two of my lessons introduced new concepts and vocabulary, and because of this I didn’t engage the classes in very rigorous activities that required intensive social scientific/historical thinking. My lessons incorporated these practices in smaller ways or in smaller portions of each lesson, but I think I need to work on improving my lesson design so that I can incorporate these types of discipline-based thinking activities as more central and continuous throughout all of my lessons.

All in all, I have a long way to go towards developing my skill set as an educator, but I’ve been provided with a solid basis and understanding of how to incorporate the core social studies practices into my teaching further. From here, I think that having more consistent practice teaching in the field will help me better develop and hone my skills through more experience.

Tales of a First-Year Teacher in Alaska: Preparation vs. Reality

A 2017 graduate of the College of Education, Michelle Fedran made an unusual choice for her first teaching position: she moved to a remote part of Alaska to begin her career. Reflecting upon the changes that have occurred in her life since last May, Michelle shared some of her story. This is the second of her three-part series on The Marquette Educator.

flyingBy Michelle Fedran

I feel that my time at Marquette did a good job on preparing me for what I’m going through now in terms of teaching. I honestly see myself using pieces I have learned from all the different classes I took. So current students who might be reading this, you may be frustrated over taking a class that “means nothing to you or your major” and I totally understand that; I was a student too. Listen and trust me when I say this, you need every tool, idea, ounce of imagination possible ready and equipped when you walk into that classroom. So hold your chin up, turn your phone off (even on your Mac), that class you may be silently meal-prepping in will give you a skill you will one day use that will save your classroom from turning inside out.

Of course, with this being my first year (and I’m sure many can relate no matter what field they are in) adjusting to a new job is going to be tough. You’re going to be asking yourself if you’ve made the right decision, and I definitely do from time to time. However, something Marquette also prepared me for is how to handle that first-year mentality many people seem to adopt. It’s easy to throw your hands up and quit, but something I felt that I learned from Marquette is to never give up and to keep pushing forward when things get tough. From day one of my freshman year, Marquette told us to “Be the Difference” and that’s what I aim to be and live up to. Blending into the background and falling victim to society norms will only pull you backwards rather than pushing you forward into succeeding in a new position.

image 3I would say my biggest challenge was getting the year started, setting a rhythm for my classroom, and deciding how I want it to play out for the year. Speaking as a first-year teacher—and some may disagree—this can be pretty challenging. I feel something that may have contributed to this minor struggle would be that I, along with many classmates, completed the student teaching rotation in the springtime. I remember talking with others about how we didn’t really get to experience and observe the initiation of the classroom atmosphere that happens at the beginning of the school year.  In spite of that, one of the beauties of being a first-year teacher is the amount of support you get. This year I’ve been to several professional development trainings and have been offered help from instructional coaches, state mentors, and coworkers who understood things I may be facing my first year. I am forever grateful to them for helping this year go smoother than I would have imagined. Something I have mentioned before and tell my students is that mistakes happen but are good because they help us learn.

In light of that, I would say my biggest success would be finally finding that groove I was looking for in my classroom. After the first full week when things seem to go right and students start adopting routines and strategies you have been trying so hard to implement through countless practices… that feeling is GREAT!  Another success I see as I write this (we are beginning our final quarter of the school year) is realizing I survived and I’m really beginning to see the growth my students have made. During the year, things can get crazy, and I mean CRAZY. It’s so easy to lose yourself, visions, and the goals you had at the beginning of the year. Overall, things get tough but when that final lap of the school year rolls around and you are able to take a breath and reflect on the year, realizing the gains your students have made thus far in their learning is a winning feeling.

Read the rest of Michelle’s three-part series on her first year teaching!

 

Combating the Scantron Test: Engaging Students in Authentic Learning

This post originally appeared on Elias Vareldzis’ blog for Education 4337: Teaching Elementary Social Studies in Fall 2017

17314687602_76dfaea22b_bBy Elias Vareldzis

Many students often seem to receive content in social studies classes — and history in particular — as dead on arrival. A lot of people hold the misguided belief that the events of the past are just that: old facts and dates to be memorized that have little to no relevance to modern life or to their own lives. This kind of narrow view of history is dangerous, for it trivializes the story of mankind, of human inter-relations, and it shuts a door to a better understanding of the complex world we live in along with the actions and events that take place each and every day both in one’s local community and across the whole world.

In many instances, students hold this view because their teachers aren’t engaging them in lessons that are based around authentic assessments. Oftentimes, teachers stick to teaching content and then assessing their classes using homework packets and standard tests that require factual recall, comprehension of key events and concepts, and written prompts that assess students’ understanding of the concepts. While these kinds of basic assessments have benefits, allowing the teacher to assess whether or not students are engaging with material and understanding historical events and periods of time, it is not often enough that teachers design assessments that connect and apply knowledge learned about the past to the modern world where students live. In order for students to truly engage, they must be given opportunities through authentic assessments to apply their learning to real-world applications such as genuine and interesting performance tasks or projects that require community and civic action.

Real authentic assessment can appear in the classroom as any number of activities that double as activities and jobs that students could be asked to complete in the real world. An authentic assessment must combine activities and skills that students can use in the real world to classroom content. This can look like the composing of a letter to a local or state policy leader about a certain issue, conducting a mock trial, living classroom museum, conducting interviews, teaching others, role playing, performing, giving speeches, simulating the legislative process, debating, researching and presenting information, creating media, attending civic events, creating art or models, diagrams, or maps, going to museums, writing a report or newspaper article, creating a documentary or podcast, relaying an oral history, curating an exhibit, telling a graphic story, creating political cartoons, writing book and film reviews, writing fictional material or songs, or writing essays or current event analyses. The possibilities are nearly endless.

By engaging students in activities and projects that promote real life skills and have clear meaning, goals, outcomes, and relevance to student’s lives and 21st century life in general, teachers can more effectively teach important academic skills, curriculum content, and state standards. Students are much more willing to engage with and be invested in authentic assessment activities compared to pencil-and-paper tests that require them to simply recall knowledge about a subject. A well-designed authentic assessment will engage students in higher level thinking about class content and will be genuinely more interesting, requiring that they take learning and their knowledge about a subject into their own hands. Through the active engagement in projects and activities with real-world relevance, students are more likely to develop important skills and retain standards and curriculum-based knowledge and objectives.

Just as valuable for their ability to actively engage students in meaningful curriculum-based assignments that develop important skills, the results and feedback from authentic assessments can serve as a teaching tool to greatly help educators most effectively reach their students. Providing feedback on authentic assessments can allow a teacher to identify areas for students to focus on developing their talents, skills, and content knowledge even further, and can help the teacher determine what skills or content they need to reteach based on the class’s overall performance. In the same way that the teacher can direct the continued learning of their students through authentic assessment feedback, so too can students. Because an authentic assessment requires students to utilize real-life skills to complete activities that connect the past to the present, students can utilize the feedback on their projects and assessments to determine how they should prioritize working on the personal development of the life and academic skills that each assessment requires them to build and practice.

 

Tales of a First-Year Teacher in Alaska: A Bird’s Eye View

A 2017 graduate of the College of Education, Michelle Fedran made an unusual choice for her first teaching position: she moved to a remote part of Alaska to begin her career. Reflecting upon the changes that have occurred in her life since last May, Michelle shared some of her story. This is the first of her three-part series on The Marquette Educator.

view from bush plane

view from the bush plane

By Michelle Fedran

When I first heard about this job opportunity, I knew it would be the experience of a lifetime not only from the location and cultural aspects of the position, but also from the personal adjustment I would have to make for myself. As I slowly learned more details about this opportunity, I went from a state of wonder to a fit of laughter. Sure, Alaska has always been on my list of places to travel to, but I never would have imagined throwing myself into rural Alaska to live and begin my career three months after graduation. Going from being one of the quietest girls in class since kindergarten, never winning that Presidential participation award in gym for completing 10 full push-ups, forcing myself not to cry as my parents dropped me off at my freshman dorm room even though they lived a short 20-minute drive away, I thought there was no way I would be able to survive so far away by myself. Now, I’m a five-plane ride, 24+ hour, six-hour layover (if we land in Seattle) trip away from my family. To make it even more challenging, I now live in a village that I’m sure most people never heard of: Tununak, Alaska.

Thinking back to where this started, I never would have been introduced to this job opportunity had it not been for my fellow Golden Eagle friend Danny Smith who already worked for the Lower Kukokwim school district in Alaska. Once he and I began talking about my potentially seeking a job with the district, he eventually became my go-to person for questions. I picked his brain, and he did a wonderful job of preparing me for what I was about to experience. Honestly speaking, if it weren’t for him, my expectations probably would have been silly and slightly embarrassing. For example, a lot of my friends joked that I would be living in an igloo. My expectations weren’t as silly as that; however, they may have been involved riding with sled dogs across the tundra. For those curious, I’ve only used snow machines or hondas (not the car, what they call ATVs) when there is no snow.

igloo

Coming into this, I expected to change some of my simple living habits. I remember my friend telling me one of the scariest moments is when the bush plane first drops you off in the village and leaves, and you realize you are stuck there until another bush plane comes back out for you — weather permitting. Going from the luxury of hopping into a car and going anywhere I wanted, you can probably imagine this was a bit soul-gripping realization and something hard to swallow. In addition to accepting the fact that my traveling relied heavily on nature and was not up to me, I had to be prepared to live conservatively. I would no longer be able to drive to Target 10 minutes away from where I lived to pick up shampoo or crackers. Where I live in the village, there are two small stores we can go to should we need anything. However, it comes at a high price – $18 for a case of soda, $8 for lunch cheese…  Our other option is purchasing from Amazon or waiting until we fly into Bethel, the closest main city, to do our shopping. Still, things are pretty pricey there as well and even flying to Bethel would cost me $400 round-trip. As you can imagine, most of the time I find myself making a lot of purchases on Amazon seeing that is usually the cheapest option. And as funny as it is, even though Amazon prime promises 2-3 day shipping, I’m lucky if I get my package within a month of my order placement date. To sum it up: changed expectations and simple living is key out here. Knowing and being well aware of this while preparing for my move, I understood it was crucial for me to pack necessities I would need right away upon arrival.

In terms of my first-year teaching in general, I expected it to be difficult no matter where I went. I actually felt this job opportunity was quite similar to my experience at Marquette given the vast differences there were. For example, in Milwaukee, I was placed in schools with a number of bilingual students who primarily spoke Spanish and English. Up here, I work with Alaskan Natives immersed in the Yup’ik culture. The two languages spoken here are English and Yugtun. The school where I work is a dual-language school in which my students learn different subjects in either English or Yugtun. My students learn Math and English Language Arts with me in English, then they learn Social Studies, Science, and Yugtun Language Arts in Yugtun with my partner teacher, who is an Alaskan Native. I felt my experiences at Marquette helped prepare me to have the mindset of working with bilingual students and what to be mindful of when working with these students. The biggest thing I can say is time and patience are two important skills I believe every teacher should adopt no matter with whom you work.

rock formationWhen it comes to thinking of what I have learned so far, the list is LONG.  I was able to learn so many things not only with the general work of being a teacher, but I was also able to learn more about the culture here. It truly is a unique experience I’m forever grateful for. Looking at the teaching side of things some advice I would give all new teachers is that some days will be rough, but you need to brush the dirt off and keep pushing forward. With this, I encourage new teachers to take advantage of all resources, whether that would be supplies, coworkers, or anything thrown at you. It is important to have an open mind and use every moment as a learning experience. I constantly find myself making daily adjustments on Mondays to improve the flow of things on Tuesdays and the cycle sometimes repeats itself throughout the week. Overall, a lot of my first year felt more like an exploration, and from this year alone I have learned so much that I plan to do differently next year. It’s so easy to get down on yourself, and this is something I have experienced my first-year; you need to remind yourself that you are also still learning (even though yes, you have graduated college and you have a fancy paper to show it). Mentors I have worked with each shared the same piece of advice that I know will stick with me: “if ever in your teaching career should you feel that you are done learning from others, then it is time to leave the profession.” As a student we were learning, as a teacher we are now teaching AND learning. You never stop learning and should never cut yourself off from learning – especially when it comes to improvements you can make in your own practice. So, use what is around you and never be afraid to ask for help! In your classroom, you may be “king” or “queen” but in the school and district, you’re a team player. Teamwork and support are huge pieces that I see in what makes a school successful, and I’m grateful to be working in a school with a staff that demonstrates those qualities.

 

Exploring Identity in Milwaukee

milwaukee-1809871_640 (1)By Lupe Serna

Growing up, I remember social studies instruction as very textbook heavy. It seemed like everything we learned about social studies was through text. I don’t recall ever going out to the community to explore social studies, much less to personally witness the role of social studies in real life experiences or in my community. Perhaps that is what influenced my imprecise understanding of the social studies. I never got the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the subject, at least I was never aware that I already was immersed in it on a daily basis.

As teachers, we want our students to see the purpose and importance of class content. We want them to be able to explore on their own and discover new things. Students should be able to question and inquire. They should be able to take what they learned and transfer it outside of the classroom.

In order to accomplish that, one of the biggest resources that we can turn to is the outside world. We can engage students into the lesson by making their city and their communities part of the curriculum. Physically taking students out into the community so that they can see the presence of social studies in the real world can make a lesson much more meaningful. Teaching social studies does not have to be limited to inside the classroom, much less to a textbook. The great thing about teaching social studies is that we can use what’s out there! We can look for sites, museums, or neighborhoods in our communities to connect social studies to students’ lives.

A site in the Milwaukee community that can help us teach social studies is the Old South Side Settlement Museum. This museum is located inside of a home in the South Side of Milwaukee. Despite growing up in that area and passing by that house for years, it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I visited it during a summer camp job. I always wondered why that house stood out from all the others and when I finally got to experience what it was about, I was amazed by what I found. This museum shows the history of Milwaukee’s immigrant communities in that area of the city throughout the decades. Each room in the house is set up to represent the cultural identities of families who once lived there. Aside from displaying photographs of that neighborhood across the years, it also has antiques and furniture that date back to when families lived there. The cultures highlighted in this museum are the Polish and Mexican cultures. Visiting this museum is a great way to see not only the differences in identities, but also the similarities among these two groups. The tour of this museum goes into the cultural component, but also the historical component in regards to immigration and the living conditions throughout the ages.

Before visiting this site, students can explore different cultures (like the Mexican and Polish that they will hear about at the museum) and their similarities and differences. They can also explore the topic of immigration and the waves of migration into Milwaukee throughout the years. Finally, students could look at the challenges that immigrants face in terms of living conditions, but also the identity crisis that they might experience upon moving to a new country. A means of introducing students to this struggle of discovering and freely expressing one’s identity can be through the book Unidentified Suburban Object. The book can engage the students through the story of a young girl who explores her family’s heritage and only then does she feel like she can be herself.

Students can greatly benefit from both that lesson and visiting that site because it is important for students to learn about what has shaped their community and to begin to discover and be proud of their own identity. One’s identity is composed of multiple factors, cultural identity, like can be clearly identified in that museum, is just one example. A person’s identity also consists of their values, ethnicity, language, sexuality, beliefs, and much more.

Religious and spiritual beliefs are large components that shape our identity. There are many different religious affiliations, and even within each affiliation, there are different practices/rituals that people adopt. Discovering one’s religious/spiritual beliefs is a long and complicated journey for many. To expose students to the religious diversity of the world, teachers can of course begin to explore different religions in the classroom so students can pick up on the differences and similarities between them. However, one of the most impactful ways to teach students about religions is by offering them the opportunity to personally witness them.

A site in Milwaukee that can teach students about Judaism through an exhibit on Jewish Belief and Community is the Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Their exhibit focuses on the religious identity and the sense of community among Jewish communities. This site can be used along with the study of different religions and the values tied to those religions. Students can also learn about celebrations/holidays and find commonalities and differences between them. For example, with the lesson below, students can compare and contrast Hanukkah, Ramadan, and Diwali. Finally, students can learn about the Jewish history in Wisconsin to increase their awareness of the lives and struggles of this religious community. This is something that they can directly interact with and explore in the museum.

Going out into the community and visiting monuments, sites, museums, or any other form of public exhibit is a great way to engage students in the exploration of social studies. If students become aware of the presence of social studies in their immediate surroundings and world, they are more likely to become interested in learning more in the classroom because they see the importance and connection of the content to real life. If there’s any way to effectively approach the teaching of social studies, it’s like this.

Questioning the Dominant Narrative

books-441866_640By Lupe Serna

Many times, the curriculum is presented through the same dominant narrative. Although this allows for consistency across classrooms, it restricts history teaching to a single story. On the other hand, if we present students with different perspectives and prompt them to question dominant narratives, we open the doors to critical analysis and historical thinking. As a result, students learn how to draw their own conclusions to interpret history, rather than merely accepting the dominant narrative.

Teaching students to question narratives and approach history through different view points can lead to the discovery of new information and facts that are usually disclosed from the dominant narrative of that historical time period.

The Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, also known as the Chicano Movement, is usually briefly mentioned in the classroom. For the most part, students receive a very general understanding of the topic as a fight against discrimination of Hispanics, the fight for farm workers’ rights alongside Cesar Chavez, and the fight for the restoration of land after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Of course, there are various ways to present this topic. A controversial textbook, “Mexican American Heritage,” describes the Chicano Movement as an attempt to create division. After reading a few excerpts from the book in the article above, I personally did not agree with that perspective. I can see why some might have thought of the movement as one that went against American culture. However, as a Mexican American myself, I think of the Chicano movement as more of a search for identity.

When discussing the Chicano movement, I think it is necessary to go beyond discussing what happened and asking why did it happen? Ultimately, it is the Mexican American people who felt the need to fight for their rights and education. Thus, the focus should be on their own experiences and struggles. Why did Mexican Americans at the time decide to fight for their civil rights? How were they feeling at the time that made them take action? What were they struggling with that led them to take part in a movement?

These questions seem to have straight forward answers: they faced discrimination, their rights as workers were violated, they had limited access to education, among other reasons. That’s as far as discussions in the classroom usually go. The deeper problem that is usually overlooked is the tie to the struggle of identity.

In the movie Selena, there is a scene where her father perfectly describes the struggle of being Mexican American as having to please two different cultures and meeting the expectations of both groups, leading to the feeling of not being good enough to belong to either group.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, many Mexicans were suddenly American. Mexican Americans struggled with this new identity, not completely Mexican but not completely American either. This article from a 1972 newspaper does a great job of explaining the identity crisis among Mexican Americans, claiming it as “One of the most pressing problems for a person of Mexican descent in the United States.” It goes on to talk about the discrimination that they face due to the color of their skin, the feelings of inferiority that they experience in the US, and the pressure to let go of their Mexican roots and customs.

Out of this identity crisis grew great pride in their mixed roots, taking on what came to be known as a Chicano identity. With that pride came awareness. Mexican Americans began to notice the manner in which they were treated differently, like is described in this poem. That awareness is what moved people to action and led to the voicing against injustices, the fight for civil rights and the fight for higher education, which was mostly led by student movements like the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA).

Among some of the most well known activists of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement are Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, founders of the National Farm Workers Association, later known as the United Farm Workers union. The fight for farm workers’ rights is the most common story that is taught in regards to the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.

A different side of the movement that is not usually included in the curriculum is the role of a secret FBI program, COINTELPRO, against activists. Left out of the curriculum and, as a result, not forming a part of students’ social studies knowledge is the use of repression and force against activists and radical groups in the sixties, especially the Black Movement.  This video talks more about the attacks against the Chicano Movement.

Most narratives included in the curriculum focus on the positive outcomes of historical topics. Students are not always exposed to the ugly parts of history that led to those victories. In the case of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, victories of activists like Cesar Chavez are commonly known, but left in the shadows are those who were silenced.

In the classroom, students should be encouraged to question both what is included in and what is left out of the dominant narrative. While they explore sources and different perspectives, they should question their credibility, their bias, their audience, their intention, and other factors that could influence the manner in which the topic is presented. This is a crucial step to incorporate into the classroom if we want students to learn how to sort out different perspectives to make their own interpretations of social studies.

Drawing from multiple primary sources when preparing for and teaching a lesson on any historical topic opens the doors to historical analysis for students. The sources above, along with the earlier video on COINTELPRO’s attacks on the Chicano Movement, present different information and perspectives on the Chicano Movement.

Social studies is about engaging students in critical thinking and analysis. A great way for them to partake in that is by questioning the narratives presented in the classroom, especially the dominant narrative. Participating in that questioning and inquiry leads to an expansion of students’ knowledge on historical topics because they learn to dig deeper and discover perspectives aside from the dominant narrative.

As teachers, that is what we are called to do — draw from multiple perspectives so that students can question the dominant narrative and make their own interpretations about the manner in which historical topics are presented.

Social Studies Embedded In Our Lives

10012162166_cde34d427e_bBy Lupe Serna

Growing up, my least favorite subject in school was always social studies. I didn’t enjoy it, it never stuck with me, I just knew I had to take it. I would take notes, study the material, take the test, and then eventually forget most of what I “learned.”

Of course, now I realize I must have never really learned it but, rather, memorized it.

The thing is, I always associated social studies with history, specifically, American history. That’s all it ever was to me. And, quite frankly, it was boring. I heard the same story over and over again each year. But even that wasn’t enough to learn it. You would think that after so many years of being taught the same parts of history something would stick with me. But that was not the case.

As a Spanish-speaking, Mexican immigrant, I could not relate to the material. I was not able to personally connect with, much less engage in, social studies class. Perhaps that’s why I always wrongly associated social studies with history, because I never saw myself reflected in the class content. As a result, I wasn’t able to take the material and apply it to my own life, I wasn’t able to make the necessary connection between the content and reality, I couldn’t partake in authentic intellectual work.

As a future educator, I now realize that that has been the traditional approach to teaching social studies for quite some time now. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like that. We have the power to change it.

By taking different, non-traditional approaches to the teaching and practice of social studies, students’s retainment of material and ability to explain it highly increases.

If students feel connected to the material, if they see themselves reflected through the content and are fully engaged participants in their own learning, they are more likely to retain what they learn in the classroom and carry it with them to use those skills and strategies in the outside world.

In other words, authentic intellectual work of social studies is constructing knowledge and being able to transfer that understanding into different aspects or situations in our lives.

What exactly does this mean for the classroom?

Authentic intellectual work means that students do so much more than just learn the material or attain knowledge. It means students actually understandthe material. Not only that, they take it a step further than understanding and they, one, discover the content’s value beyond school and, two, take that disciplined inquiry and apply it in their lives.

But before I go on, it is important to clarify what social studies actually consists of.

There really is no set definition for social studies. Usually, when people hear the word social studies, they think of history, politics, geography, and international relations. At least, that’s what I always thought of.

Not many realize that social studies is so much more than just history. Social studies includes topics such as personal idenity, culture, race, language, religion, community involvement, social justice, civil plans and so much more. In a nutshell, social studies includes anything and everything relating to the human society and social relationships.

For the most part, we don’t really think about social studies as something we do. Surprisingly enough, we do in fact “do” social studies on a daily basis, at times when we least expect it. We do social studies by something as simple as interacting with members in our community, actively responding to current events or natural disasters, fundraising money for organizations or our own communities, acting or taking part in a school play that reenacts a moment in history, partaking in civil rallies demanding social justice, etc.

Take, for example, the many times throughout history when civilians have reacted to and spoken out against social injustices by taking to the streets to protest. It happened back during the Civil Rights Movement and it continues to happen today, the most recent example of nation-wide protests being those held to call for the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In protests like these, participants “do” social studies in the following ways:

  1. Stay informed of current events and actively participate in their communities
  2. Use freedom of speech to stand up for what they believe in
  3. Are aware of and accept cultural differences and diversity
  4. Are informed about the effect of certain political decisions on the lives of others
  5. Interact with other individuals and groups
  6. Sympathize with and show their support for those directly affected

This video shows a recent and local protest on the streets of the Southside of Milwaukee, WI, where the community gathered to call for the protection of DACA.

Another misconception about social studies is that only adults take part in it. Youth’s involvement and role in social studies tends to go unnoticed because many are under the assumption that kids, who have not yet experienced much of life nor have attained much knowledge or wisdom, are not capable of contributing to society or having any sort of impact on the world.

However, quite the contrary is true. Kids can be just as powerful and impactful as adults. At times, they can have an even greater impact precisely because they are kids and as kids, they have a clearer, more innocent outlook on life.

Youth “do” social studies in more ways than imagined. A very common activity that children partake in but that is rarely recognized as “doing” social studies is discussion. When children have conversations with individuals or groups, they are, in one way or another, “doing” social studies. Participating in conversations is a great way for children to “do” social studies because it consists of taking an active role in social relationships. By interacting with others, hearing different perspectives, discussing their own view points, expressing their thoughts and feelings, and connecting with others’s stories and experiences, children are actively “doing” social studies.

This video is an example of 2nd-4th grade students “doing” social studies as they perform their own rendition of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” This is a great example of students “doing” social studies because it is evident that students took the material and interpreted in their own way to be able to perform it for an audience. They took history, listened to a different side that is usually not told, made it their own, and, to some extent, re-lived the past by literally putting themselves in the story and taking on different roles. Also, because they were able to fully engage with the material and presented it to an audience, their “doing” of social studies is a lot easier to assess in this situation. Their performance reflects their level of engagement and their investment with the material because in order to perform it well, they must first understand the message they must convey and incorporate props, movements, song, and emotion to do so.

Other examples of youth “doing” social studies are volunteering or doing community service, exploring other cultures and religions, witnessing social justice issues, interacting with people of different backgrounds, acknowledging the diversity within their own homes and the people around them, picking up garbage around their neighborhood, recycling in their homes, being considerate of the amount of water they use, fundraising money for organizations or humanitarian causes, and much more. A few methods of assessment for a non-traditional approach to social studies might be:

  1. Visual respresentations of past and/or current events with captions summarizing students’s explanation of what happened
  2. Visual representations of students’s reactions (physical and/or emotional) to particular stories or shared life experiences
  3. Written reflections about personal encounters or experiences out in the community
  4. A retelling of a story or conversation of students “doing” social studies outside of the classroom
  5. Written responses to the way in which current events were featured in news/media coverage and how it impacted them

A storymap is another example of “doing” social studies because it can serve as a timeline of events that in one way or another impacted an individual, or a group of individuals, while simultaneously telling a story and making it more personal. I created my own storymap to illustrate part of my family’s journey migrating from Mexico to the United States. By mapping this out, I got a better geographical understanding of the long journey that my grandparents, parents, and extended family members made by moving to the United States. It was very impactful because as I reflected on the difficulties, sacrifices, and social injustices that my family has experienced, I realized how strong that has made us and how it has shaped our character. At the same time, it also brought me joy and pride to remind myself of where I come from and what I’ve been through to be where I am today. If that isn’t authentic intellectual work of social studies itself, I don’t know what is.

 


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